Technologies That Will Propel India In 2018

Reema Jose

Convenience, affordability, and inclusivity will become the mainstay of innovations that take center stage in India in 2018, according to experts.

2017 saw the Indian economy make significant headway in technology deployment. Cloud-based transactions, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data analytics, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), and blockchain became buzzwords across the country, thanks to the digital push by the Indian government, a flourishing startup ecosystem, and automation in the commercial space. India’s thrust in building a robust broadband infrastructure, coupled with its high mobile penetration, will boost technology adoption further. Sector-wise, game changers vary, and 2018 promises further disruptions.

Which technologies are likely to take the spotlight in 2018?

We reached out to 10 prominent leaders from across key sectors to assess contemporary technologies and predict the likely digital disruptions that await India in the coming year. Below is Digitalist Magazine’s projection for emerging technologies in 2018 and the key determinants of their adoption, based on these conversations.

Public sector

“Aadhaar, IndiaStack, and GST all coming together will make a big difference to the country, provided we play our cards right.” -Pramod Varma, chief architect of Aadhaar, architect of IndiaStack, and a Digitalist 2017 award winner

The Government of India’s efforts, such as Aadhaar, Jan Dhan Yojana or “banking for all,” demonetization, Digital India, and the rollout of the goods and services tax (GST) regime, fueled technology adoption in the nation in 2017. The country made a start toward a Unified Payments Interface (UPI) for payments and digital lockers. 2018 is likely to see a broader adoption and impact of these initiatives. Two areas that will receive focus in the public space are education and healthcare.

Pramod Varma, chief architect of Aadhaar, the largest project of its kind to build a verifiable identity system in the country, architect of IndiaStack, and a Digitalist 2017 award winner, says, “The impact of Aadhaar, IndiaStack, and GST all coming together will make a big difference to the country, provided we play our cards right. Some of the technologies that were in the early or experimental phases in 2016 and 2017 will become mainstream in 2018.” Varma is bullish on the use of blockchain and a significant upgrade in cybersecurity in 2018 by India Inc. and the government alike.

Big Data and analytics are other key areas where the government has begun efforts. One instance is its reliance on geospatial analytics, which draws insights from satellite data using ML and remote sensing technology. Other scenarios where Big Data analytics can be applied are monitoring urbanization, authenticating income tax assessments, and even tracking internal migrations within the country. The technology is expected to evolve further and find deployments in governance at the grassroots level, such as in village and district-level administrations.

“Opportunity is in digitalizing physical assets and leveraging blockchain to ensure that transactions against those assets are done in a very secure manner.” -Ramanathan Ramanan, mission director, Atal Innovation Mission

The Digital India drive will open more opportunities for blockchain. Ramanathan Ramanan, mission director of Atal Innovation Mission, a Government of India initiative to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, prophesies, “Blockchain will be a big opportunity in India. The opportunity is in digitalizing physical assets and leveraging blockchain to ensure that transactions against those assets are done in a very secure manner. Whatever you can think of regarding assets can be digitalized today. For example, take land records and Aadhaar: How do you securely digitalize them?”

Is there a prescription for a winner technology in the public space?

“The key criteria for technologies is that they should belong to what I would call ASSURED inclusive innovation – where A stands for affordable, S for scalable, S for sustainable, U for user-friendly, E for excellence and D for distinctive or disruptive.” -Dr. Raghunath A. Mashelkar, research scientist and corporate consultant

Inclusive innovation is the need of the hour. Says Dr. Raghunath A. Mashelkar, a research scientist and corporate consultant who was formerly the director general of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), “The key criteria for technologies is that they should belong to what I would call ASSURED inclusive innovation – where A stands for affordable, S for scalable, S for sustainable, U for user friendly, E for excellence, and D for distinctive or disruptive.”

Banking

“We are building the largest innovation center in the world. Of the eight pilots we prioritized, at least two will get into beta production this year.” -Sudin Baraokar, head of innovation, State Bank of India

2017 saw digitalization take the banking sector closer to the consumer with disruptive technologies such as Big Data, blockchain, AI, and the IoT leveraging cloud computing to change the face of business. In 2018, the industry will further reimagine processes by harnessing these technologies in the digital payments arena.

Blockchain, which thrives on collaboration and transparency, will emerge as the most disruptive technology for financial transactions in 2018. It is likely to find deployments across areas such as peer-to-peer lending and crowdsourcing. It can also help manage and enhance the economic inclusion index with minimal investments.

The successful start of the BankChain project in India, a Mumbai-headquartered collaborative banking initiative involving Indian and international banks, is a clear sign that blockchain technology is here to stay. BankChain aims at building banking solutions for a network of 22 banks in India and overseas and is widely acknowledged as a landmark project in the space. “We are building the largest innovation center in the world. Of the eight pilots we prioritized, at least two will get into beta production this year. Some of the areas we want to work on may not require a regulatory view,” says Sudin Baraokar, head of innovation at India’s largest public sector bank, State Bank of India.

Biometrics that allow recognition by iris, voice, and face, and enable wallet-free shopping with authenticated payments will be increasingly deployed with cloud and mobile technologies to widen the net of financial inclusion. Several startups are working with banks as well as independently to unlock the opportunity that this presents. E-commerce and healthcare providers will do well to piggyback on these efforts.

The hugely successful launch of the HDFC Bank’s chatbot EVA earlier this year (featured in the Digitalist Sept–Oct 2017 issue) is just the beginning for chatbots in India. Applications of AI and ML are reckoned to find more complex applications in chatbots to meet a broader spectrum of customized customer needs, including payments in 2018.

Healthcare

“Sharpening analytics will help us calculate the efficacy of certain chemotherapy regimens and the chances of exact matching of a drug with the patient.” -J. P. Dwivedi, CIO, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Center

Technology in healthcare in India translates to deployments at both the back end and front end. Automation at the hospital and service-provider level is evident in hospital data centers, enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations, disaster recovery centers, and backup facilities, as well as device-monitoring dashboards that ensure the smooth functioning of healthcare infrastructure and seamless tracking of patients.

In the area of patient services, electronic health records systems and improved queue management have enabled smoother service access. There have been exciting experiments with blockchain to enhance accessibility, convenience, and patient-centric medical care. Blockchain technology is being employed to allow hospitals to collaborate and make hassle-free health information exchange a reality. For instance, patient medical records will be accessible on a standard health information grid, enabling the patient to be mobile and access the records at any hospital or city.

J. P. Dwivedi, chief information officer at the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre, one of Asia’s premier cancer care centers, confidently says, “Sharpening analytics will help us calculate the efficacy of certain chemotherapy regimens and the chances of exact matching of a drug with the patient.”

Wearable devices have been growing in adoption, with awareness levels increasing on fitness and health. The IoT will play a role in the evolution of wearable tools that will be more user friendly. In medicine, IoT and AI will also benefit remote delivery of health services and preventive care. Telemedicine, teleradiology, and teleconsultation, which are currently in primitive forms, will become more sophisticated in 2018.

Research in medicine will witness exciting advances, one instance being the arrival of Nano sensors capable of circulating inside the human body. The “Internet of Nano Things” is another area to look forward to, where connected nano things are able to store and transmit information from inside the human body, for research purposes.

Manufacturing

“Connected shop floor or smart manufacturing will become a reality in at least some automobile companies.” -Vijay Sethi, CIO and head of CSR, Hero MotoCorp Limited, and a Digitalist 2017 award winner

Indian manufacturers are already using applications in AR and VR, AI, and robotics to provide better customer experiences and for process optimization. Chatbots used in the front end; industrial IoT and the digital twin concept used in driving operational efficiencies; and predictive analytics used in preventive maintenance and supply-chain innovation are a few examples of the massive digital disruption in the manufacturing sector.

2018 will see further maturing of these technologies as cloud-based technologies permeate into more areas. Blockchain could also find applications in manufacturing, such as vendors collaborating to serve customers better. The Tata Group and the Mahindra Group, among others, are actively exploring opportunities in blockchain.

Experiments in India spotlight on affordability and customization for the Indian environment to provide bottom-of-the-pyramid solutions and efficiencies in the supply chain all around. The Tata Group has an exciting innovation in this space. The salt-to-software solutions conglomerate has developed a technology to create a fuel cell with a low-platinum catalyst to power vehicles in the future.

Automobile industry insiders are looking toward AI to disrupt the sector further. Automobile manufacturing has been a mainstay in India, with the primary manufacturing companies taking pride in pioneering technology and process innovations in this industry. The digital twin project of Hero MotoCorp was a global first in the two-wheeler manufacturing segment. The availability of cost-effective IoT sensors is expected to further fuel the adoption of the digital twin concept with applications in smart asset management, as well as improving operational efficiencies for projects. Further explorations are underway at the Indian auto majors for driverless cars and bikes, e-cars, and even biofuel cars. However, some of these experiments may not translate to actual products on the road in 2018. Trials in electro mobility will lay the foundation for deployments in the next three to four years.

“Connected, smart vehicles and accessories will be in India next year, which means there will be data collected on the automobile, processed in real time, and feedback offered to users. In automobile manufacturing, a connected shop floor or smart manufacturing will become a reality in at least some companies,” says Vijay Sethi, CIO and head of corporate social responsibility at Hero MotoCorp Limited, the world’s largest two-wheeler motorcycle manufacturer based in India.

“AI and IoT will dictate trends in the paints industry in 2018.” -Manish Choksi, president, International, IT, HR and Chemicals at Asian Paints Limited and a Digitalist 2017 award winner

In manufacturing retail, AR and VR will become more disruptive, and more retailers will embrace these technologies to enhance customer adoption and experience. AI and the IoT will dictate trends in the paints industry, according to Manish Choksi, president, International, IT, HR, and Chemicals at Asian Paints Limited, a leading Indian paints manufacturer.

“In 2018, chatbots will become more user-friendly and will have the ability to respond to questions that are not necessarily framed for a machine.” -Dr. Gopichand Katragadda, Group CTO, Tata Sons Limited

In another case of technology serving the grassroots, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) are increasingly employed in areas such as agriculture for spraying pesticides as well as in industry inspection. Voice recognition, image recognition, and natural language processing have all come of age to service needs at the bottom of the pyramid.

“AI will evolve into chatbots, which are smarter. In 2018, chatbots will become more user friendly and will have the ability to respond to questions that are not necessarily framed for a machine,” says Dr. Gopichand Katragadda, group CTO of Tata Sons Limited, the principal holding company and promoter of the Tata companies. Katragadda, tasked with driving technology innovations across 120 companies of the Tata Group, is leveraging design thinking apart from betting on AI and deep learning to drive business models and impact enterprise technology.

Smart city

“90% of the technologies powering GIFT City have been sourced from Indian companies, a lot of them startups.” -Ajay Pandey, managing director and group CEO, Gujarat International Finance Tec-City Company Limited and a Digitalist 2017 award winner

This year, the government announced a list of 30 additional cities for development as smart cities, taking the count to 90, under its Smart City Mission. The government-backed project is implementing multiple technologies to bring the towns up to global standards in terms of improved quality of living and sustainable management. Smart cities call for an ecosystem of applications and technology to enable “smart” features such as intelligent lighting, smart water, power management, smart traffic management parking mechanisms, and many more.

Digital solutions based on AI, the IoT, blockchain, and robotics, as well as a combination of these technologies, are slated to fuel smart city projects. For instance, devices with intelligence and the power to communicate will help smart waste management, smart parking, and traffic management, and track the distribution and consumption of water and power supply.

AI and deep learning can power features like face recognition and be used to help study the consumer behavior within the cities. Companies like Bangalore-based eMudhra are also exploring ways to use blockchain in urban planning and governance, with potential implications for smart cities.

An innovative smart city in the works, Gujarat International Finance Tec-City Company Limited (GIFT City) will pioneer features such as an automated waste collection system (AWCS) and segregation plant and a single IoT-based Command Control and Communication Centre (C4) to monitor and manage city infrastructure. The district cooling system is the first implementation for commercial use in India. Features under trial include geofencing, which uses GPS to define geographical boundaries.

According to Ajay Pandey, managing director and group CEO of GIFT City, and a Digitalist 2017 award winner, 90% of the technologies powering the project have been sourced from Indian companies, many of them startups.

Logistics

“There is activity across apps using data, automation, and AI. Voice-assisted apps will see an upgrade in 2018.” -Kapil Bharati, co-founder and CTO of Delhivery

The logistics industry has been on a technology adoption spree, combining the strengths of cloud computing, the IoT, and robotics to manage warehouse operations and track shipments and deliveries in real time. Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRSs), radio frequency identification (RFID), GPS, cloud, and mobile are heavily in use to streamline operations. In 2017, the GST rollout led to an unprecedented increase in digitalization and faster transportation of goods for sectors across the board, and understandably in the logistics sector.

Expectations are rife for greater adoption of essential ML for higher automation and to assist in simplifying delivery mechanisms in 2018. Growth in the sector has also led to an upward spiral in applications using Big Data, automation, and AI. “There is a lot of activity across applications using data, automation, and AI. Voice-assisted applications will see an upgrade in 2018,” says Kapil Bharati, co-founder and CTO of Delhivery. For instance, you may not have to look at the screen to make decisions; instead you may be able to use your Bluetooth handset and give commands. This is an area where much work has been done by companies such as Google and Amazon.

Big Data and cognitive computing will be vital in laying the foundation for futuristic logistics systems. Interestingly, employers are increasingly looking at robots to protect against labor shortages during high demand. That robots improve the speed, accuracy, and productivity per square foot of warehouse space when e-commerce giants are reeling under rising rental prices is clearly in their favor.

The rise of e-commerce and demand from Tier 2 cities will lead to further collaborations between logistics players, and such models will be increasingly enabled by technology. Use of sensor technology that measures traffic flow, area-specific volume, and movement of people will grow in 2018.

Predictions: The top three technologies in India in 2018

  • Blockchain technology has several experts betting on it for collaboration and trust-based ecosystems across industries and government systems.
  • Artificial intelligence will find newer applications across sectors and in combination with digital twin technology among others.
  • Further evolution of AR and VR is expected to ensure increased use of mixed reality for more immersive experiences.

How is digital disruption impacting the Asian economy? See Rise Of The Digital Conglomerate In Asia.


Reema Jose

About Reema Jose

Reema Jose has over 15 years of experience writing on business and technology.